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Grannis plans cleanup of old gas plants


State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Alexander "Pete" Grannis plans to "crack the whip" on investigation and cleanup of dozens of languishing toxic gas-plant sites on Long Island and around the state, enlisting regional DEC offices to attack the problem, he said in an interview.

Grannis, a former state assemblyman with a track record of aggressive environmental work, acknowledged that historically the DEC hasn't acted quickly enough to make sure the sites get cleaned up. He was named to the post in April by Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

"We are really committed to finally cleaning these sites up," Grannis said last week, after the DEC announced that 12 additional KeySpan Corp. sites had come under DEC consent orders, providing for commitments to investigate and clean up the sites. Eleven are in Brooklyn, one is in Nassau. "We're going to take a much more aggressive posture in getting the sites under consent orders and cleaning them up as soon as possible," Grannis said.

Many of the sites, which made vaporous gas from coal and gasoline for lighting and heating uses before the widespread use of natural gas, are more than 100 years old. KeySpan inherited most of the Long Island sites from the former Long Island Lighting Co., but it also owns sites from its Brooklyn Union Gas days in Brooklyn,
Queens and Staten Island.

Some of the largest and most threatening sites are on Long Island and in the city. Sites in Bay Shore and Hempstead, where toxic coal tar has remained underground and spawned plumes thousands of feet long, have
been the focus of concern for residents and legislators who worry the toxins have affected public health.

A longtime DEC critic applauded Grannis' stance.

"I believe Pete Grannis will do health and the environment from these MGP sites," said Walter Hang, president of Toxics Targeting, an environmental database company in Ithaca. He called Grannis "an absolute monument to environmental stewardship" and said, "Only he has the experience and the will to take on these polluters and make them clean up the toxin messes they've made."

The notion of enlisting regional DEC offices in the effort is a marked change from past DEC practice, which saw all the work centralized from Albany. Some have criticized the centralized approach because Albany staffers didn't have regional expertise and because it led to a bottleneck in which only a handful of experts were responsible for administering hundreds of sites.

"We are going to be looking to use our resources in the region to a greater degree," Grannis said. Grannis also noted that the DEC is filling about 100 positions in the department, although he couldn't say how many would be devoted to so-called manufactured gas-plant issues.

"We are doing a thorough analysis of all the staffing needs," he said.

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